Monday, May 30, 2016

Lost and Found – The Barn on the Rustic Road

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Over the years of photographing, Joann and I have lost the locations of several photographic subjects and later managed to find them again. Most of the locations were from our earliest days of photographing when we weren’t so diligent about logging the location of each photo.

About a year ago, Joann said she was looking for the photos of a barn on a Wisconsin Rustic Road that we had visited sometime earlier. No matter how she searched the logs, she couldn’t find it. I tried my hand at searching, and I couldn’t find it either.

Joann had a reason for looking for it, but when she couldn’t find it, she found another photo that would suffice. Later, as she was processing other photos, she stumbled on the photos from the day we had been at that barn on the Rustic Road.

She started to wonder what the barn looked like now, several years later. The roof had some problems already in 2009, and the roof of a barn is the most vulnerable, especially in our harsh Wisconsin winters.

She asked me to put it on our “return to” list for as soon as possible. So, on August 5th, of 2015, we returned to Vernon County to capture this barn and a few other locations we had on the list. We didn’t have a lot of time that day, but we made sure to get there just before we had to head for home. With a backdrop of a gorgeous blue sky with puffy white clouds, Joann took a few photos, and we headed for home.

Then on September 22nd, we were beginning our fall photography with our annual trip to the apple orchard. As we were eating our “breakfast” of apple cider donuts (it was close to 11:00 A.M. by that time), we talked about how close we were to Vernon County, and maybe we should run past the barn again.

This time we approached from the opposite direction from our previous visit and drove the Rustic Road backwards. It’s really interesting how different locations and subjects look just by driving them a way you haven’t before. A different season, a different direction, a different time of day, can all affect what you notice.

This time Joann took some close-ups of windows, the vents, and hay hood.

This barn has metal vents, and one has a weathervane on top. Vents on barns were to ventilate the hay. Spontaneous combustion is a threat to farmers who store newly baled hay in barn lofts. I remember our father always monitoring the hay after it was in the barn, checking for hot spots.

Hay hoods on barns extended out from the top ridge of the barn over the pulley mechanism for lifting hay into the loft. Not all barns have a hay hood. We always loaded hay into the barn using a bale conveyor and a lot of manual labor.

Joann had already asked if we could return again in winter after we got some snow on the ground. So, on January 14th of 2016, after a pretty good snow, we headed west again with a goal of getting some good winter pictures of the barn on the Rustic Road.

When a barn’s roof begins to go, we start to worry. What if we have a winter with a lot of wet heavy snow? Many a barn is standing in the fall, and by the end of winter, either the roof has fallen in, or the whole barn has toppled over.

We didn’t want this barn to suffer that fate before we could get our photos. We made sure to get there with a little more time than we had given ourselves before. Joann stopped the car farther down the road and took some shots.

Then we moved the car closer to the barn and she pulled over as far as she could (harder to do in the winter with plowed snowbanks at the sides of the road), and ventured off with her tripod, camera, and extra equipment bag.

She walked along the roads around the barn, taking photos from every direction. She knew we might be lucky and find the barn still standing the next time we pass by, but the barn could just as easily be but a memory when we return. In this case, we drove the road three times in one year, but it was after we hadn’t driven the road for five years.

If you’re driving down a Wisconsin road and you see a “Jct Rustic Road” sign, consider taking a slight detour to drive the road. You never know what you might find!

Happy Shunpiking!


Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Mystery - Footings in the Woods

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In the fall of 2010, Joann and I were in Monroe County near cranberry country (Warrens and Tomah). We came to a corner with a brick town hall and an old outhouse near the woods next to it.

Following our normal process, Joann got out and got her equipment, and walked off to take photos of the town hall and the outhouse, while I started to look at the gazetteer to plan where we might head next.

After photographing the town hall and all around the outhouse, Joann came back to the car and said “You have to see what’s in the woods.”

I got out of the car and we walked back across the road and up into the woods. There among the grown trees and understory was a very large stone foundation with big concrete footings. We talked about what a building of that size might have been. Our first thought, because of the size, was some sort of mill, but we knew that was just a guess.

Joann decided it was too interesting not to take some photos, so she set up her equipment and I went back to the car to finish my plan.

As is often the case, we forgot about the photos until Joann was processing other photos and stumbled on them. She wondered again what the building might have been and decided to contact the Monroe County Historical Society to see if they might know what had stood at that location.

They knew about the town hall and that it had begun its life as a school. When the town was organized, a new school was constructed across the highway and the brick school became their town hall. At some point, the new clapboard school had been moved, so what remained was the Grant Town Hall and its outhouse.

They didn’t know what the building in the woods was, but they did provide an old map with some building codes on it. Where the town hall stands was the code of TH, and next to it was a code of DH.

Joann guessed Dance Hall but we couldn’t get a confirmation. What we got was the complete map with codes at the bottom, but DH wasn’t among them. Now we were really curious about how to confirm what that building had been.

Then we found the email address for the Town of Grant which still meets at the Town Hall. Joann sent off an email with a link to the photos we had taken in the woods. We were hoping someone in the township might know someone old enough to remember or have heard about what building used to stand at that location.

We didn’t hear back from them, but we did get another email from the Monroe County Historical Society saying they could confirm that the DH stood for Dance Hall and that they had recently been contacted about the Grant Dance Hall.

We don’t know if it was our email to the Grant township that brought up the discussion of the old dance hall or not, but we’re happy to know the answer to our question about what that old building was in the woods.

And it makes us sad that it was gone before we could add the building to our collection as a Dance Hall. Our father had taken us past an abandoned Dance Hall he used to frequent as a young unmarried man, and our mother and father took up polka dancing when we lived in Lake Mills. So it’s nice to visit some of the places where they might have danced if they were near them.

We have more mysteries from our years of travel, and maybe, as time permits, we might find out what some of those old buildings were. After all, we found them important or intriguing enough to photograph for our collection.

We never know what we’ll find along the backroads, but we do love a good mystery.

Happy Shunpiking!


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Wisconsin Ghost Town

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

I’ve always loved pictures of old ghost towns, which are usually found in the western states. In Wisconsin, many towns were eventually abandoned, often due to the railroad bypassing the town. And, in most cases, none of the buildings exist anymore. So, in 2012, on a visit to northwest Wisconsin, I was really excited when Ruth told me we would be visiting a ghost town.

As Ruth began directing us toward the ghost town, the following conversation took place.

Joann: What’s the name of this ghost town?

Ruth: “I’m alone.”

Joann: “What? You’re alone?”

Ruth: “Imalone. The town is called Imalone.”

There isn’t much information to be found about the unincorporated town of Imalone, other than a 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article written about Heather Aldrich whose grandparents had owned the Wagon Wheel bar in Imalone. The article was about a road trip Heather took with a friend to prove that there really is a town in Wisconsin named Imalone. In the 1970s, Heather had attended summer bible camp in Imalone.

So, where did the name Imalone come from? Legend has it that the town was established by a man named Snowball Anderson, who built a gas station in the area. One day when Snowball left his gas station in the hands of an old-timer named Bill Granger, a salesman who was writing up an invoice asked for the name of the town.

Not knowing there was an official name and having no one else there to ask, Bill said, “I’m alone.” So the salesman wrote Imalone on the invoice and it stuck.

Others say the legend isn’t true and it was actually Snowball Anderson who named it Imalone because he and his gas station were alone there at the time.

It was late in the day and the sun was sinking toward the horizon when we pulled off the county road onto a circular dirt road with the abandoned town in the distance. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I grabbed my equipment and made my way through the tall grass to the first abandoned building I came upon. All that was left of it was a concrete block foundation and a couple of living room chairs.

As I looked through an open window frame of another deteriorating home, I could see the remains of a very old television set, with a shattered picture tube.

Just beyond the abandoned houses were the remains of an old concrete stave silo. So there must have been a farm there at one point.

And an old stone well sat alone and forgotten in the woods behind the collapsing houses.

Imalone’s only other claim to fame was having its name on a 30- by 70-foot billboard about 10 years ago above a 20-story building in Midtown Manhattan. The billboard simply said, “Imalone WI, 934 Miles,” with an arrow pointing to the west.

According to the 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about Imalone, written by Jim Stingl, the billboard company had a gap between paid ads on that billboard, so they decided to get creative. A sales assistant suggested a mileage sign, so the VP of creative development looked for towns with strange names and decided to use Imalone.

Walking through the remains of what once was a town was both sad and a little spooky. But now I can say that I visited a real Wisconsin ghost town.

Happy Shunpiking!